Lives are being put at risk because soldiers are illegally dumping deadly munitions in skips for household waste.
Defence chiefs admit there have been as many as 20 incidents where live ammunition, grenades and other munitions have been placed in waste bins in the past three years.
Internal Ministry of Defence documents warn commanders that "the dangerous and highly unprofessional military habit of just 'binning' any old unwanted ammo or salvage continues to happen". The report warns that if the problem continues, the Army will face prosecution by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and the Environment Agency (EA).
The Army has ordered a crackdown on the unlawful disposal of munitions after a series of cases involving the dumping of live ammunition, grenades and dangerous pyrotechnics including flares and powerful thunder-flashes.
The latest report on the issue, Army Safety and Environment Matters, Issue 29 – Summer 2008, highlights a series of safety breaches. In one incident, a major public waste recycling plant in Wallsend, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, was shut down for five days after hundreds of rounds of belted live machine-gun ammunition were discovered by workers in a skip for household waste.
The skip had come from the Army training base at Otterburn in Northumberland. The report reveals the Army was forced to pay £27,930 compensation to the company running the plant.
In another incident, an army bomb team had to be called out to perform a controlled explosion on a grenade found at a landfill site, while in Aldershot pyrotechnics buried among rubbish in the back of a waste lorry exploded and caused a fire.
All unused ammunition is meant to be accounted for and returned to secure stores. However, the MoD admits there have been as many as 20 cases of rules being breached since 2005, with at least three this year alone. As a result, the MoD has been issued with formal letters of complaint from the EA and HSE, as well as waste disposal companies.
The Army has warned that unless action is taken, waste contractors could refuse to collect military rubbish, including domestic waste from living quarters. The MoD said it would be spending £500,000 on systems to sort military waste at six major training bases including Salisbury Plain, Otterburn and Lydd. Units are being ordered to have "amnesty" boxes for soldiers hoarding ammunition, and display warning signs next to bins and skips stating that "illegal disposal of munitions is forbidden".
An HSE spokesman said: "If live ammunition is mistakenly included with waste then that has the potential to be set off during disposal, placing those workers who are handling the waste at risk of injury. We are aware of incidents where live ammunition has been inadvertently mixed with waste material for disposal and the HSE has investigated these incidents where appropriate... The MoD, the same as any other organisation, has a duty of care under the Health and Safety at Work Act to protect its employees, its contractors and members of the public."
The MoD insists the majority of incidents involve harmless waste, and stresses that no one has been injured.